The happy-hour menu abounds in salads, so we tried one. Ensalada Diabla offers beef slices, feta, spring greens, jicama, and a palate-clearing tamarind vinaigrette that took my mouth back to Thailand — I’d like the beef cut thinner, into strips, so they’re less assertive amid the gentle greenery. But my heart still belongs to the wonderful Ensalada de Nopalitos I’ve eaten downtown, with lush-textured strips of fresh nopal cactus pads, tomatoes, mozzarella, red and yellow peppers, and an oregano vinaigrette. But, hey, this restaurant has such a great array of salads — you want greens, just do your thing.
The happy-hour prices liberated me to play with silly cocktails to my heart’s content, instead of trying to get serious with wines. The caipirinha is tasty but inauthentically oversweet — it should be made of bashed-up limes and lime juice, a sprinkle of sugar and cachaça, and Brazilian white rum, without the addition of simple syrup (sugar and water cooked to a syrup, like the stuff in canned fruit), which makes it too louche. (I think it started as a “folk drink.” Cachaça was originally what my Trini friends call “bush rum,” until the serious liquor manufacturers woke up and realized they had a potential cash cow as caipirinhas gained popularity.) The margarita is so strong on Cointreau, I had to squeeze in the lime wedge to combat its orangey depths and balance the sweetness. Bartender must have a sweet tooth. Sam tried a delicious Cetto Chenin Blanc from Baja and an obscure, delicious Chilean Merlot, deep and pleasantly muddy, with the punch of a Cabernet.
Bottom line: Total indulgence for a huge happy-hour “review dinner” of grazes ran $83 plus tip for two (with way too much of everything, including three rounds of drinks). If you’re not reviewing or otherwise going crazy with self-indulgence, figure about $28 a person for a great grazing dinner, plus tax and tip and extra for drinks. Of course, happy-hour grazes don’t take you into the menu’s more artful if costly depths — but try, taste, and decide whether you want to come back and spend more to explore further. All I can say is — “¡Andale! ¡Ole!” Yeah, happy happens here.
Good News Note: Talented but ever-restless pastry chef Jack Fisher has finally alighted again, back at La Jolla’s 910 Restaurant, where he and executive chef Jason Knibb made a dream team a few years ago. (Hey, Jack, willya just stay put a while? Your fans want to know where to find you.)
Candelas on the Bay
(Very Good to Excellent)
Coronado Ferry Landing, 1201 First Street #115, Coronado, 619-435-4900, candelas-coronado.com.
HOURS: Monday–Thursday 11:00 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Friday to 11:00 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday breakfast 8:00 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Bar menu Thursday–Saturday until midnight, with happy-hour pricing after 10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Dinner appetizers, $12–$15; soups, $8–$15.50; salads, $7.50–$15; entrées, $16.50–$39 (most upper $20s). Happy hours, 50 percent off appetizers, soups, salads, drinks. Early-bird (4:00–6:00 p.m.) discounted dinner. Breakfasts and lunches moderate.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Creative, French-influenced Mexican haute cuisine. Solid wine list, including Baja and Chilean bottlings, lots by the glass, full bar with fun cocktails, including “Mexican” martini flavors.
PICK HITS: Happy-hour menu: Crema Fabiola (poblano cream soup), Calamares Candelas (stuffed calamari), Estructura de Aguacate (chilled shellfish and avocado), Ensalada de Nopalitos (cactus-pad salad). Dinner menu, same items, plus Langosta Baeza (stuffed lobster tail), Camarones Cabo de Puertas (tequila-flamed tamarind-streaked prawns over sashimi-grade raw ahi), Placer Poblano steak, “La Pesca” (fish du jour in cuitlacoche cream sauce).
NEED TO KNOW: “Star rating” refers to happy-hour menu only; dinner menu may rate differently, as entrées are more ambitious. Reservations recommended for prime-time weekends and all summer, especially for bay-view patio (request when reserving). Park at left end of the lots. Happy hours 4:00–6:00 p.m. daily, 10:00–midnight Thursday–Saturday, bar only (plentiful tables). Few Cal-Mex standards at dinner, more at breakfast and lunch. Adequate light choices for lacto-vegetarians; one great lacto-veg dinner entrée (eggplant).